FREDA Girl: Justine Liu

Tell us a little bit about your back story. Where are you from?

I’m from kind of all over the place at this point!  I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, went to school in Boston, lived in New York and Brooklyn for 7 years, moved to Los Angeles, then moved back to Boston to be with my husband when I was 7 months pregnant (we had been living on opposite coasts for a couple years).  I love that I’ve had the opportunity to live in some great cities and neighborhoods, but I’m very happy to be raising our family in LA now.

While I’ve built my career in fashion and retail, it certainly wasn’t where I expected to end up.  My parents were Taiwanese immigrants, and similarly to a lot of first-generation kids (and in my case, growing up near the Mayo Clinic), I was expected to go into medicine when I grew up.  I spent the vast majority of my life believing this was the logical path for myself, and I ended up graduating on the pre-med track at MIT.  I know it sounds silly, but it wasn’t until my senior year when I truly started to think hard about what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  While I didn’t have any solid answers, I did realize that being a doctor wasn’t it.

Meanwhile in the backdrop, fashion has always been an important part of my life.  When I was younger, I think clothes and fashion were a way for me to feel like I “fit in” a little bit more, something I cared about a bit too much as a Taiwanese teenager growing up in a predominantly white midwestern city.  That evolved into a meaningful interest in the industry as I grew older, and after school and a couple brief false starts in other industries, I found a path for myself in retail that I was excited to immerse myself in.

When did you start Billie The Label and what inspired you to do so?

Technically, I started working on Billie the Label in early 2019 and launched the brand in September of that year.  But the idea of launching my own line was something I’d been thinking about seriously since giving birth to my son in 2017.  I’ve changed in various ways over the years, but after I became a mom it became apparent just how dramatically my tastes had changed.  I struggled to find clothing and brands that resonated with me the way they had before.

From a practical standpoint, it was impossible for me to chase around my toddler in a mini skirt or a dress that I had to constantly fidget with.  After breastfeeding for two years, I just didn’t feel as comfortable wearing clothes that I couldn’t wear a bra with.  But that didn’t mean I didn’t want to still dress in a way that made me feel good about myself!  Billie the Label was about me getting comfortable with the “new” me -- the one who still wanted to feel feminine, on-trend, confident, and put-together, but in a way that aligned with my life as it was.  The more people I spoke to about this feeling, I started to realize this was a common thread in women I knew, moms or not.  And that’s what kicked things into gear.  I created Billie the Label to speak to the modern-day woman who’s equal parts badass, feminine, and confident.What do you value most about the community you have built at BTL? 

I’ve been amazed at how many incredible and different women have come to be a part of this community — customers, strangers, friends, acquaintances, and women from all different walks of life.  One of my favorite memories after launching was catching up with my hair stylist during an appointment and having her grab another client (a fashion stylist) who just happened to also be there and introducing us right on the spot because she thought it would be a great connection for the brand.  I’m continually humbled by the positive support we’ve received as a new brand and awed by the power of the female collective. 

What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
First, don’t let yourself be paralyzed by self-doubt.  Before launching, I sunk a lot of time and energy into anxiously thinking I was going to drop the ball or let the brand fail before it even had a real chance. We’re still new and have a lot to prove, so I wouldn’t say we’re out of the woods yet, but the reality is I can’t expect people to show up for me and my brand if I can’t show up for myself, and that keeps me going.Second, find partners and supporters who genuinely understand and align with what you’re trying to build.  This is true for friends and cheerleaders, but especially so when it comes to investors and backers.  Be clear about your goals, understand theirs, and get a handle on the timelines you each envision.  There will always be differences, but make sure your relative priorities reinforce each other, not conflict in ways that will put you forever at odds.

What does Women Supporting Women mean to you? 
One of the most supportive things women can do for each other is utilize their platform or status — regardless of size — to help lift up other women.  I think for a lot of women a successful career can feel like a zero-sum game, with few women in C-suite positions and minimal amounts of VC funding going to female founders.  But letting the “it’s you or me” mentality take over is something I just can’t buy into.  I think Women Supporting Women is about making room for as many of us to succeed as possible and changing the narrative from the top down.

What are you reading and listening to these days?
I’ve of course been glued to the news with the state of the world as it is, both in written form and via podcasts like The Daily.  But I’ve also taken the time to disconnect a bit.  My husband and I recently binged all three seasons of the Netflix show Dark (after our son’s bedtime, of course), and while I can’t say I’ve wrapped my head around all of it, it was certainly a fun plot to untangle (I highly recommend!).


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